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Batman Begins

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Based on Frank Miller's superb Batman Year One comics, if its Xbox mirror image is anything to go by, Batman Begins promises to be darker than a black hole and edgier than a dodecahedron.

No more tights. No more comedy sidekicks. No more remote controlled Batmobiles with optional bulletproof shields either.

Batman Begins - the movie - will be a Batman with its roots in the real world. He'll hunt criminals, he'll scare them shitless, but he'll feel pain, anger and lose control too.

Of course, as we all know, videogames don't do complex emotional content (at least, not yet anyway), so shoehorning Christian Bale's performance into an Xbox, and those of the other leads from the movie, was always going to be hard.

All the heartache and soul-searching Bruce Wayne goes through in the film has to go, as does his relationship with Liam Neeson's watchful father figure, Henri Ducard.

And, although the movie's still under wraps, we'd take a wild guess - and almost certainly be right - that Wayne hits it off with Katie Holmes' Rachel Dodson too (who we think works in Gotham nuthouse, Arkham Asylum), meaning another key area is headed for the scrap heap.

Which leaves you with two things. But two key things. The criminals and the fear.

These are the two key areas that the videogame version of Batman Begins really plays on. You'd expect the criminals, of course, but the fear element is one of the most intriguing ideas we've come across in a game for a while.

A natural extension for a stealth title - which this is - and an offshoot from the real world feel of the movie, the whole game is built around the idea of a fear of Batman, of who he is, of what he does.

The criminals in the game can be manipulated by this: as Batman, you can make sounds and create diversions in order to give enemies the willies.

The more frightened they get, the less capable they become, accidentally dropping weaponry, or trying to find out where noises came from and neglecting their duties. This is when you strike.

A fear bar in the bottom left helps you to ascertain just how pant-filling you've become, but the more you move, twist and reshape the environment, the easier it'll be to take down enemies.

EA and developers Eurocom reckon each level of the game is a puzzle - you just have to work out how to manipulate it. In some of the sections we played, you could blow up barrels and, in one museum section, knock over a hulking great dinosaur skeleton to really mess them up.

But there are multiple approaches: Batman comes armed with the usual gadgets, including the trusty old Batarang, though he's also equipped with Clancy favourites like flashbangs and smoke grenades.

These really ramp up the fear in foes: a flashbang will blind them temporarily and send them running mad, while a smoke grenade has the added benefit of masking your approach - useful when you're dressed as a six foot bat.

Best of all, though, are the real bats. See, somewhere in that utility belt, the man-bat has trousered himself a stick full of ultrasonic frequency, and when he pushes the button, bats appear, flying towards enemies and creating confusion and fear, leaving you to mop up.

Tied into this is the combat. At heart, it's fairly simple. Relying entirely on three buttons, Batman can unleash the martial arts when he gets close enough, letting loose with a volley of destructo-kicks and punches.

So, once you've scared your enemy silly by creeping around them, you can move in for some up-close-and-personal twattage. Of course, the less scared you've made a foe, the more of a fight he puts up, so it's in your interests to dish out the spooks before you pile in with the thumping.

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